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Series Formats

The background, characters, stars and behind-the-scenes personnel of CULT TV series.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Dennis Potter's wilful last testament ...


UK - 1996 - 4 episodes (60 mins) - colour

The second part of Dennis Potter's valedictory diptych that began with Karaoke, the deeply poignant Cold Lazarus continues the story of writer Daniel Feeld 374 years after his death.

The test subject for the Larazus Project, Feeld is being used by a team of scientists led by Emma Porlock at the Madson Science Centre, to successfully revivify his cryogenically preserved head. Regenerating the brain cells through chemical inducements, the team discover they can bring his memories to life on the Living Wall.

While their experimentation incurs the wrath of would-be autocrat Martina Matilda Masdon who is only concerned with the huge overspend, media mogul David Siltz, the president of Uniplanet Total Entertainment only sees the potential in broadcasting Feeld's past life memories to the masses. As the city becomes host to terrorist attacks perpetrated by dissident Luddites who espouse Reality Or Nothing, Feeld gradually becomes aware of the interested parties vying for his memories and manipulates them to his end.

A fitting conclusion to his life and work, having named his cancer after Rupert Murdoch in response to his utter loathing of the media tycoon, Dennis Potter created an outrageous vision of the future to satirise the growing crass commercialism and media exploitation. Knowing Cold Lazarus would be his final work, he uses Feeld's visualised memories to reference his life and the already established masterpieces while voicing concerns as to how he expected to be remembered.


Albert Finney as Daniel Feeld
Frances De La Tour as Emma Porlock
Ciaran Hinds as Fyodor Glazunov
Henry Goodman as David Siltz
Diane Ladd as Martina Matilda Masdon


Friday, 22 February 2008

The Wild Wild West gets really surreal ...


USA - 1993-94 - 27 episodes (60 mins) – Colour

Created by Jeffrey Boam and Cartlon Cuse, and modelled after the original The Wild, Wild West, the exploits in The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr followed a Harvard law graduate and romantic dreamer, hired by the Westerfield Club (a syndicate of wealthy businessmen) in his quest to track down the outlaws who murdered his father in cold blood.

Joined by Socrates Poole, a bookish attorney who acts as liaison with his legal employers, and the tracker Lord Bowler, the hunt for the Bly gang finds Brisco Country, Jr and his telepathic horse, Comet, involved in a mystery surrounding mysterious metal orbs, discovered by a Chinese railroad gang, that grant extraordinary powers to whoever possesses them.

Parodying the genre by spoofing the clichés without excessive smugness, amongst the familiar Western tropes of riverboat gamblers, saloon singers and stagecoach hold-ups, found an eccentric professor building a rocket in his barn, Mafia-like Italian crimelords, an Elvis Presley-inspired Sheriff, and a cowpoke who repeatedly gets killed. While in a sly nod to television's past, James Drury, star of The Virginian, plus Rawhide's Paul Brinegar, and Robert Fuller from Wagon Train and Laramie made cameo appearances as the Robber Barons from the Westerfield Club.

Laced with such fantasy elements and expected to be Fox's breakout hit of 1993, an honour that instead went to The X-Files, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr proved to be too left-field and unpredictable for most American viewers and their conservative tastes, and therefore lasted just the one season.


Bruce Campbell
as Brisco County, Jr
Christian Clemenson as Socrates Poole
Gary Hudson as Sheriff Aaron Viva
Julius J Carry III as Lord Bowler
Billy Drago as John Bly
John Astin as Professor Albert Wickwire
Kelly Rutherford as Dixie Cousins
Jeff Phillips as Whip Morgan
John Pyper-Ferguson as Pete Hutter


Friday, 22 February 2008

BBC Science Fiction goes for characters over effects...


UK (BBC) - 1978-81 - 52 episodes (50 mins) – colour

Devised by Terry Nation, creator of Doctor Who’s iconic hoodlums, The Daleks, and the post-apocalyptic Survivors, the adventure within Blake's 7 can be assessed as one of the UK's few successful attempts to produce a serious, adult, science fiction opus.

A variation on the format of "The Magnificent Seven", Blake's 7 took place in a grim future, devoid of individual freedom of expression, where Earth is ruled over by the totalitarian Federation. Sentenced to a penal colony, former resistance leader Blake escapes his captors, with an assortment of prisoners in tow, in an abandoned, technologically advanced alien ship, christened Liberator, waging war against their evil oppressors.

For once the low budget that had become a signature of most home-grown fantasy worked in the show's favour, as stories had to put more emphasis on character. Not every member of the ship shared their leader's idealistic views, especially when they were fighting such impossible odds, and the seven usually fought amongst themselves as much as they battled against the Federation.

Overturning television format dramatic conventions, Blake's 7 has not been averse to killing off its lead characters. When Blake went missing in action at the end of the second season, his place was taken by the cynical and self-serving Avon, whose opposition to the Federation, now personalised in the form of Supreme Commander Servalan, was ambiguous at best. The controversial final episode packed an astonishing, twist, creating viewer reaction and confusion on a par with the final episode of The Prisoner, some 15 years earlier.

Gareth Thomas as Roj Blake
Paul Darrow as Kerr Avon
Sally Knyvette as Jenna Stannis
Michael Keating as Villa Restal
Jan Chappell as Cally
David Jackson as Olag Gan
Peter Tuddenham as Voice of Zen/Orac/Slave
Jaqueline Pearce as Servalan
Stephen Greif as Travis (season 1)
Brian Croucher as Travis (season 2 onwards)
Steven Pacey as Del Tarrant
Josette Simon as Dayna Mellanby
Glynis Barber as Soolin


Friday, 22 February 2008

Thoroughly British Adventuring in the Swinging Sixties ...


UK (ABC) - 1961-68
161 episodes (60 mins) - B&W/Colour

The first British series shown on American primetime television with its debut in 1965, The Avengers became the longest running secret agent adventure series of the 1960s. It had huge international success by playing up to all the typical British stereotypes. Original conceived as a format to showcase Ian Hendry, whose Doctor Keel character enlists intelligence agent John Steed to track down his wife’s murderers, The Avengers evolved far beyond its original concept following Hendry’s departure.

Moved centre stage and reinvented as a debonair gentleman, Steed worked with a succession of liberated female partners, from night-club singer Venus Smith and leather-clad, martial arts expert Cathy Gale, to catsuited Emma Peel and trainee agent Tara King. As time went by, the series, originally broadcast live or on videotape, developed a polished, visual style as it moved through to black and white film, and then to colour. Replacing the real world with an idealised fantasy Britain, The Avengers shifted from tough crime thriller to outrageous parody, with Steed and Mrs Peel investigating absurdist conspiracies hatched by a succession of diabolical masterminds in the most innocent of rural English settings.

Although the final year, which introduced Mother, the wheelchair-bound chief of the secret service, achieved some of the highest ratings for The Avengers on British television, it proved less successful in America. When the network declined to buy more episodes the series was cancelled.

Resurrection followed six years later, when The New Avengers emerged – but it lacked the optimism of the Swinging Sixties that was so much part of the original format. It fell between the anticipated familiar parodies and the style of grittier dramas that had come to be popular following the success of The Sweeney. A succession of co-funding ventures eventually dried up (including some which led to episodes being made on location in Canada), and the series was again no more.

A feature film followed some 20 years later, but a savage trimming, following poor mid-American test audience screenings, decimated what was a complex plot much in the style you could have expected from the original series. Needless to say, the result was an incoherent mess which may never be put right, unless a Director’s Cut sees the light of day on DVD in the future.

Patrick MacNee
as John Steed
Ian Hendry as Dr David Keel
Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale
Julie Stevens as Venus Smith
Diana Rigg as Emma Peel
Linda Thorson as Tara King
Patrick Newell as Mother


Friday, 22 February 2008

A TV spin-off of a dark SF movie ...


US - 1989-90 - 23 episodes (60 mins) - colour

Developed for television by Kenneth Johnson, who had earlier been responsible for V, and based on the film written by Farscape creator, Rockne S O'Bannon, Alien Nation used the mismatched cop format as a thinly veiled commentary on racial intolerance.

Already familiar staples from television, the impulsive, divorced detective partnered with an introspective, family man differed significantly in with the quieter George Francisco being a Newcomer; one of a quarter million Tenctonese slaves onboard an alien spaceship that crashes on Earth in the Mojave Desert. Humanoid in appearance, their intellectual superiority to Earthlings has failed to endear them to reactive Los Angeles residents who refer to the Tenctonese as 'slags' and give them menial jobs.

Although the police stories were structurally routine, Alien Nation focused on Francisco's experience as the first Newcomer detective in the LAPD, as well as the reception his family gets moving out of the alien ghetto into a human neighbourhood. Making the point effectively, without being too preachy, the family angle concentrated on the Francisco daughter Emily, attending a new school where she is the only Newcomer on campus, and son Buck, rebelling against integrating into human culture and joining a Newcomer gang. The series also significantly developed Tencton culture, from their eating habits to reproductive methods.

Lasting only the one season, the characters were revived for five television movies between 1994 and 1997, which resolved the series cliffhanger ending and saw the return of the Tenctonese's slave masters, The Overseers.

Gary Graham as Detective Matthew Sikes
Eric Pierpoint as Detective George Francisco
Michelle Scarabelli as Susan Francisco
Lauren Woodland as Emily Francisco
Sean Six as Buck Francisco
Terri Treas as Cathi Frankel
Jeff Marcus as Albert Einstein


Friday, 22 February 2008

Gerald Harper's Victorian adventurer out of time ...


UK (BBC) - 1966-67
26 episodes (50 mins) - B&W

Conceived for the BBC, and based on a proposal to update Sexton Blake that had fallen through after the Corporation failed to acquire the rights to Hal Meredith's crime-fighter, Adam Adamant Lives! saw England's gallant defender from Edwardian times, Adam Llewellyn De Vere Adamant (Gerald Harper) frozen alive by his arch-nemesis The Face in 1902.

Revived sixty-four years later by thoroughly modern mod girl, Georgina Jones (Juliet Harmer), granddaughter to one of his long dead acquaintances, and joined by William Simms (Jack May), a former music hall artiste prone to speaking in doggerel verse who serves as his valet, this man out of time continues his fight against the nation's foes whilst adjusting to the strange new modern world.

Compared unfavourably to The Avengers, a show many of the writers, including co-creator Tony Williamson, had previously written for, whilst Adam Adamant Lives! employs the same tongue-in-cheek humour and male/female dynamic, the overall content owed more to the ITC action series of the time. Against the backdrop of “Swinging London” with its beat clubs and boutiques, the valiant Adamant and hip Georgie take a stand against assorted low-lifes, gangsters and military fanatics who proved little match for his cold steel and elaborate style.

By the time of the second series, the BBC had lost confidence in the show, and it was not even allocated a regular time slot. With almost half the episodes wiped from the archive, the lack of repeats has meant that Adam Adamant Lives! has almost fallen off the radar of memory, unlike many series of the era that had a similar cult following.

Gerald Harper as Adam Adamant
Juliet Harmer as Georgina Jones
Jack May as William Simms


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